The Best Open Back Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

The Highest Rated Headphones for Mixing and Mastering

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Compared to closed-back headphones, open-back headphones are just that: the back of each driver is vented or opened and covered with a protective grille. They are designed so that the driver diaphraghm is able to move more freely with minimal air resistance. This freedom of movement minimizes internal reflection and resonance which provides for an expanded soundstage and better detail. This is why open-backed headphones are generally preferred for reference, mixing, and mastering. The most obvious trade-off is isolation which generally makes them unsuitable for tracking.

While there were new headphones that came out since the last update, the data we gathered in our 2020 update shows that the music production community still favors the classic studio headphones from our previous list.

Ready to take your mixing to the next level with a brand-new pair of open-backed headphones? Read on!

The Best Open-Back Headphones for Mixing & Mastering

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 2850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$159
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

The DT-990 Pro are a set of dynamic headphones made for studio and monitoring applications. The spring steel headband, built with a soft padded material, provides both comfortable and secure fitting. The soft earpads built around the earcups also provide comfort and are replaceable. The lightweight diaphragm and moving coil have the same pulse characteristic as electrostatic headphones with a tailored frequency response. These headphones come with a single-side coiled cable fitted with a 1/8" stereo jack plug with a 1/4" adapter.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45mm
  • Magnet Type: Not Specified
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 35,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 100 mW
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 13.4 oz
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' coiled cable, 1/8" old plated stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Pros

Many customer reviews mention how transparent these headphones are. They deliver an accurate sound with clear & crisp highs in particular. The wide soundstage and stereo image is also praised. Comfort, even after long hours of use is very much appreciated by users who commend it's soft and ear-friendly velour pads. The durable build is also frequently mentioned.

Cons

There are a few people who feel these headphones have slightly recessed mids and overpowering lows.

Overall

If you're looking for a pair of headphones for mixing that are comfortable and have a hi-fi tonality with slightly relaxed midrange, the DT 990 Pro is a good choice.

Sennheiser HD 600

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 1400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$339
Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Back Professional Headphones

At publication time these were the Highest Rated Open-Back Headphones for Mixing.

The HD600 has been a favorite among mastering engineers worldwide. They feature open metal mesh earpiece covers for transparent sound, lightweight aluminum voice coil for exceptional transient response, and optimzed magnet systems that reduce distortion. Because of the generously spacious enclosure design, standing waves and resonance are minimized.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium-ferrous
  • Frequency Response: 12 - 40500 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 200 mW
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.28 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' cable, 1/8" to 1/4" stereo connector

Pros

Near-neutral frequency response, wide soundstage, natural sound and good dynamic range are the main aspects that are widely favored and commented upon for the Sennheiser HD 600's. Some users also mentioned they never experienced any fatigue or harshness in high frequencies after using for long hours in part due to their light-weight with soft ear padding.

Cons

A few people have suggested that quality of the plastic headbands weren't on par with the price, though they are still durable. The initial clamp force of these headbands feel uncomfortable at first to some users and need time to loosen up.

Overall

A favorite of studio engineers and audiophiles alike, the HD 600 has been a benchmark for audio quality at this price point. Once you get past the clamping force discomfort and have the headband mold to the size of your head, you're in for a comfortable experience that will make a 5-hour mixing session feel shorter.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Professional Open-Back Headphones

The ATH-R70x are professional reference headphones that feature a pure alloy magnetic circuit design to reduce distortion. The 45 mm drivers reproduce extended low and high frequencies while their aluminum honeycomb-mesh housings provide a natural open-back sound. They are equipped with a dual-sided detachable locking cable that is designed so that the stereo orientation will be correct whichever way you plug them in. Their robust and light weight build make them comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 40,000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 1,000 mW
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB
  • Impedance: 470 Ohms
  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Cable and Connector: Dual-sided detachable locking cable

Pros

The general feedback is positive when talking about the construction of these headphones. Many reviewers found them to be robust and light weight while wearing them. When it comes to sound quality, they provide a balanced and wide sound with a good bass response, clear highs and midrange. In his MusicRadar review, Robbie Stamp mentioned they "create and maintain a full width stereo image, allowing for confident pan decisions and the construction of complex sound fields, as well as extreme ones."

Cons

Some users said they weren't loud enough due to their high impedance - using a headphone amp compensates for this situation

Overall

If you're a fan of the Audio Technica M series but want a more open sounding, more mix-oriented pair of headphones, the ATH-R70x is a great choice for fans of the Audio Technica sound. Do check if your interface is capable of driving the headphones efficiently first.

Sennheiser HD 650

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 1600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Sennheiser HD 650 Open-Back Headphones

The HD 650 are headphones designed for audiophiles which makes them quite useful for mixing and monitoring. The aluminum voice coils of these headphones ensure fast transient response across the frequency spectrum. They provide detailed sound reproduction and low harmonic distortion which makes them suitable for referencing. The detachable oxygen-free copper cable also allows low handling noise sensitivity.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 10 - 41000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 500 mW
  • Sensitivity: 103 dB
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.12 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.8' cable, 1/8" stereo jack plug and 1/4" adapter

Pros

As expected from Sennheiser, these set of headphones have exceptional sound reproduction as attested to by the numerous users who have praised the high quality and near neutral sound of their drivers. The lows, mids, and highs have noticeable detail, which lets users analyze their mixes or reference a mix. They also mentioned their large elliptical design and velour earpads are comfortable enough for their ears to rest well.

Cons

Although majority of users mentioned these headphones are durable, some users thought the quality of plastic material didn't match up with the price. Some also preferred a much wider sound stage.

Overall

Compared to its similar looking sibling the HD 600, the HD650 steps it up with better bass definition and a slightly relaxed midrange. If you feel that the HD600 would be too flat or neutral for you, or if you want something more hi-fi sounding but still able to translate mixes, The HD 650 is a good pick.

Shure SRH1840

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
Shure SRH1840 Open-Back Studio Headphones

The SRH1840 features individual matched 40 mm neodymium drivers that are built to provide extended highs and accurate bass. They have a lightly padded steel headband and lightweight aluminium alloy yoke. The velour earpads have high-density and slow-recovery foam while the padded headband is adjustable. This makes them comfortable for long hours of use. Their use of dual exit cables provides security and detachability for easy storage or replacement.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 40 mm
  • Magnet Type: Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 10 - 30000 Hz
  • Maximum Input Power: 1000 mW
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB
  • Impedance: 65 Ohms
  • Weight: 9.44 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 6.9' Dual-exit, detachable oxygen-free copper cable, Gold-plated 1/8" stereo mini-jack

Pros

One of the features users found to be exceptional were the clear and accurate response of these headphones. In his Sound on Sound review, Sam Inglis mentioned the lows are "solid, well-defined, fast, and nicely integrated with the rest of the sound. The mid-range is detailed and rich without being overstated, and high-frequency extension seems excellent, as is the presentation of transient". When it comes to build, a lot of reviewers discussed how durable, lightweight and comfortable these headphones are. Most of them found the detachable cord convenient for easy storage.

Cons

Some users disliked the dual-exit cable and prefer a single-exit cable since it is prone to get tangled or snagged.

Overall

If you want a pair of headphones with a fast response time to be able to perceive transients better, the Shure SRH1840 is a great pick; especially for those who want to get the absolute best sounding percussive sounds right in their tweaking. Fast transient responses allow you to make better compression tweaks and the Shure SRH1840 prioritizes that.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$599
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Open-Back Studio Headphones

German made products are generally highly regarded because they are usually well made, and feature cutting-edge technology - and the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is exactly that, with its premium build quality and innovative design. Beyerdynamic developed their own transducer design that better handles sound at higher volumes, and they call the technology "Tesla Driver" (not to be confused with the car company or Nikola Tesla). The drivers work together with the titanium-coated acoustic fabric on the open-back earcups to produce a balanced sound with natural ambience. Another stand out feature of the DT1990 Pro is its replaceable velour ear pads, which lets you switch from a well balanced sound, to a more mixing friendly sound.

Specifications

  • Driver Diameter: 45 mm
  • Magnet Type: Tesla Neodymium
  • Frequency Response: 5 - 40000 Hz (-10dB)
  • Maximum Input Power: Not Specified
  • Sensitivity: 102 dB
  • Impedance: 250 Ohms
  • Weight: 12.96 oz.
  • Cable and Connector: 9.84' Straight cable, 16.4' Coiled cable, 1/8" jack plug, 1/4" Adapter plug

Pros

Sound quality is the top most commended feature of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, many are impressed with its clarity. Coming in close second is its comfort, most users appreciate the memory foam ear pads and the feel of the headband. It is also sought after for its versatility, thanks to its replaceable ear pad design which subtly changes the sound. Lewis Leong of TechRadar concluded his review with this: "Said simply, they’re professional-grade cans that anyone will enjoy listening to."

Cons

To make the most out of the DT 1990 Pro, some users recommend getting a headphone amplifier that matches its 250 ohm impedance. There are a few who comment that it tends to emphasize the higher frequencies.

Overall

While most people would stop at the DT 990, the DT1990 takes it up a notch higher with clarity, frequency response and soundstage. Do take note that for some, clarity means extended high frequencies which may be a downside for others.

Things To Consider When Using Headphones for Mixing or Mastering

Although studio monitor speakers are generally better for primary mixing and mastering, open-back headphones are affordable and convenient alternative options for situations where you can't make a lot o noise or don't have an acoustically suitable room . They also make great reference monitors to see what your mixes will sound like to listeners using high-end headphones You can also bring your headphones on the road if you are planning to mix in different locations. Headphones are also useful for checking unwanted hisses, clicks and pops, and are also ideal to use for focusing on subtle details of each individual track.

Frequency Response

Most studio headphone manufacturers add a high-frequency roll-off since high frequencies sound louder when close to the ears. They also add a slight bass boost for you to feel thumping rhythm like what you hear from monitor speakers. It's highly recommended to look for headphones with the closest to a neutral frequency response so you can hear the clear and natural audio in your mixes. Most open-back headphones have an extended frequency range in both ends for deeper responses.

Comfort and Durability

Comfort is a subjective factor yet should be considered since you will be mixing or mastering for long periods of time. Open-back models tend to be more comfortable compared to closed-back headphones. Their designs have grilles that expose drivers, which gives a natural and 'airy' sound when mixing. They allow sound to leak from both directions of each earcup and lets your ears have a bit space, which gives your ears less fatigue while listening for hours at a time. In cases of mishandling, some manufacturers provide replacement parts for earpads or cables, especially for higher-priced headphones so you don't have to replace an entire set when parts wear out.

Headphone Terminology

Clamp Force determines the pressure or tightness of earpads on your ears. It's ideal to find headphones that provide an even amount of clamp force where they're not so loose as to fall off easily by minimal movement, and not too tight so as to be uncomfortable.
Sound stage refers to the perception of width and depth of the sound coming in from the drivers of the headphones. This recreates the placement or imaging of instruments while listening.
Roll-off refers to the gradual attenuation (reduced volume) that occurs often at the lower or higher end of the frequency range of headphones or speakers.
Transient response is how fast a driver reacts to changes in the audio.
Impedance is how much resistance the headphones provide to the source. Higher output amplifiers or interfaces may benefit from higher impedance headphones while lower impedances would be easily driven by most interfaces and mobile devices. Running a low impedance headphone with a high output interface or amplifier is fine if you control your volume. However, matching a high impedance headphone with a low output sound source like cheaper interfaces or mobile sources may result in the driver being underdriven. Cranking low output sound sources may result in output stage distortion and may affecy your preception of the mix.

Best Mixing & Mastering Headphones Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on June 21, 2017 written by Denise Azucena and the latest major update was published on February 5, 2020 written by recording engineer Raphael Pulgar.

We looked at all the popular open-back headphones, available from major online music gear retailers, that are suitable for mixing and mastering. You can see the headphones that made our short list in the Music Gear Database. We then analyzed the most recent reviews, ratings and forum discussions and processed this information via the Gearank Algorithm to produce the scores out of 100 you see above.

For this update, we processed almost double the amount of data, which totaled to over 10,900 sources. We then recommended the highest rated options in this guide. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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